Your rights under the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act

The Access to Information Act

The Access to Information Act came into force on July 1, 1983. It gives Canadian citizens, along with persons and corporations in Canada, the right to request access to federal government records.

The Access to Information Act is based on three main principles:

  1. government information should be available to the public;
  2. exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific; and
  3. decisions about disclosures should be reviewable independently of government.

The Privacy Act

The Privacy Act came into force on July 1, 1983. It protects the privacy of individuals by outlining strong requirements for collecting, keeping, using, disclosing, and disposing of personal information held by government institutions. It also gives individuals (or their authorized representatives) a right of access to their own personal information, with limited and specific exceptions, and with certain rights to correct or annotate it.

Note: Requests under the Privacy Act are normally made by individuals who are looking for their own personal information. However, there are limited and specific exceptions, such as when the individual submitting the request has the written consent of the individual that the information relates to, when the requester is a legal representative for an Estate, or when the request involves a compelling public interest.

Duty to Assist

As result of the Federal Accountability Act, which added subsection 4(2.1) to the Access to Information Act, government institutions have an enforceable "duty to assist." This duty reinforces the notion that the identity of the requester has no bearing on any part of the processing of the request:

4(2.1) The head of a government institution shall, without regard to the identity of a person making a request for access to a record under the control of the institution, make every reasonable effort to assist the person in connection with the request, respond to the request accurately and completely and, subject to the regulations, provide timely access to the record in the format requested.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is committed to fully complying with this duty to assist provision for all requests made under the Access to Information Act, and requests made under the Privacy Act will be handled in the spirit of this provision.

Assistance to requesters – 10 guiding principles

  1. Process requests without regard for identity, unless the information relates to the individual who made the request, or whom the request was made on behalf of.
  2. Offer reasonable assistance throughout the request process.
  3. Inform the applicant of access to information and complaint processes.
  4. Provide the opportunity to clarify the request, where necessary or appropriate, in a manner that has the least impact on response timelines.
  5. Make a diligent and thorough effort to locate and retrieve all of the requested records in a timely manner.
  6. Apply limited and specific exemptions to the requested records.
  7. Provide accurate and complete responses.
  8. Provide timely access.
  9. Provide records in the format requested, where appropriate.
  10. Allow for the information to be examined in an appropriate area within the government institution.

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